Paul Manafort’s accountant told a federal court on Friday that she knowingly helped him pass off forged financial documents so that he could cheat on his taxes and defraud banks for better loan terms.
Cindy Laporta, a former certified public accountant at KWC, testified in Alexandria, Virginia, that she knew Manafort’s former business partner, Rick Gates, was creating fake loan documents but went along with it anyway.
The fraud began in September 2015, when Gates told Laporta that Manafort’s tax bill was “too high” for that year and was more than he could afford, she said. Gates floated the idea of reclassifying some income to Manafort’s consulting business, DMP International, and Laporta testified that she ultimately went along with it.
As a result, Gates sent Laporta documents which she described as obviously forged and backdated to March 2014. The document purported to show a loan agreement between Telmar and DMP International in the amount of $900,000 but was unusually brief and listed no collateral for the loan. Laporta, who testified that she recognized Manafort’s signature on the forged paperwork, said she then used the phony loan to fill out her client’s personal tax return.
She told the court that federal prosecutors had granted her immunity in order to testify on Friday because of her witting role in assisting the tax and bank fraud.
When asked by prosecutor Uzo Anyes why she had gone along with the fraud, she said, “I had a couple of choices at that point. I could’ve refused and exposed [KWC] to litigation. Or I could’ve called Mr. Gates and Mr. Manafort liars.” Laporta added that she was loathe to insult a longtime client.
The income reclassification saved Manafort an estimated $400,000 to $500,000, according to Laporta, but the attempts to hide his income presented other problems as he sought new cash from mortgage loans in order to stem the bleeding from his failing consulting business. Loans that had helped to reduce his taxable income made him a less appealing mortgage borrower, and therefore subject to more expensive loan terms.
When Manafort applied for a mortgage on his Hudson Street home in New York City, officials at Citizens Bank expressed concern about a $1.5 million debt on DMP International’s books to Peranova Holdings, another Cypriot shell company, according to emails introduced on Friday. The lack of income on DMP International’s ledger had helped reduce Manafort’s taxes but made him subject to more expensive mortgage terms.
Emails show Laporta responded in an email to Citizens Bank saying that the loan had been forgiven effective in 2015—a representation she said she made based on assurances from Gates and Manafort. “I relied on their word,” she testified.
When Laporta asked for documents supporting the loan forgiveness in February 2016, Gates replied that he needed to “chase down signatures”—a phrase she said she believed meant that it was “highly unlikely” the resulting forgiveness paperwork was effective.
Laporta said she forwarded the paperwork to Citizens Bank despite her apprehensions because she “honestly believed the bank would have to vet the document themselves” and that this meant she was legally “protected” from criminal liability.
The February indictment of Manafort and Gates alleged that Manafort had applied for a mortgage at his Howard Street home in 2015 and claimed that it was a personal residence and not a rental property in an attempt to get better terms on a mortgage. Laporta testified on Friday that he had earned over $115,000 from Airbnb rentals that year on his taxes and claimed the home had been rented all year.
Philip Ayliff, another accountant who worked on Manafort’s taxes, testified Friday that Manafort had also pressured him to help him with a similar fraud. DMP International rented a property on 5th Avenue in New York from John Hannah LLC, an entity owned by Manafort, as part of a self-rental arrangement. When Manafort sought a mortgage in January 2015, Ayliff said Manafort asked him to tell UBS that the property had been a personal residence, despite the fact that Ayliff had filled out previous tax returns that classified it as a rental property and helped deduct rental expenses for it. Ayliff said he ultimately refused to lie to UBS on Manafort’s behalf.